Agent Monday: 3 Things I’m Searching for in Fiction

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  With last week’s blizzard a distant icy memory, it’s time to dig into my submission inbox – hoping for some hot fiction I can represent. Often, though, submissions look so promising on one front, but don’t deliver on another. So I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in that “total package,” in case it’ll help you amp up your own fiction into that coveted must read for agents and readers alike. So here are the 3 things I’m searching for in submissions…

1. An Intriguing Idea

I know, duh, right? But this is essential. When I read what the book is about, I want to think: Oooo, that’s interesting! Not: Oh, THAT again? Or: And? I care because? If your idea is ho-hum, this presents a huge challenge for you the writer. Also, your idea should be handled in a fresh way that only you will show me.

2. Skill

Double duh. BUT, so very often I find that intriguing idea and think, “Yes!  This is something I’d love to read. So excited!” Then I start to read the manuscript and find the writer’s craft is lacking. They have a great idea, but can’t carry it off.

3. Follow Through

Writer’s that have an intriguing idea, and demonstrate skillful craft, must still be able to take that idea, and, with skill, develop it into a satisfying read to the very end. Too often, manuscripts start off well, and then plateau and disappoint. A great manuscript must promise something great to the reader, show skill, and then, and here’s the real key, deliver even more than what the reader had anticipated.

So a great manuscript grows that intriguing idea. The writer’s style and personality works perfectly with that idea to truly create a world and show us something even more insightful, moving, and or unique than we’d ever anticipated. That writer has truly taken us on a journey. We end the read more than satisfied. We are amazed.

What I’m often seeing are manuscripts that give me #1, but not #2. Or #2 but not #1. And when #1 and #2 are in place, #3 is missing. As an agent and a reader, I need all three elements in place. And when I find them, it’s reading magic.

Need some examples of projects that snagged my attention on all three fronts? Here are just a few from our client list:

Adult fiction:
DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA by Harmony Verna (releasing through Kensington this March)

Young adult fiction:
MENDING HORSES by M.P. Barker (Holiday House)

Middle grade fiction:
ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER by Carmella Van Vleet (Holiday House)
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books for Young Readers)
THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT by Erin Teagan (releasing through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2016)

Picture book:
TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge)

As a writer myself, I strive for those 3 elements in my own fiction, and work hard to hold myself to those standards whenever I dive into my own fictional worlds. If you want to check out my YA novels, here are the links:

DRAWN by Marie Lamba
OVER MY HEAD by Marie Lamba
WHAT I MEANT… by Marie Lamba (Random House)

And coming in 2017, is my picture book:

GREEN GREEN (Farrar Straus Giroux) by Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

 

 

 

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Agent Monday: Conference Tips for Introverts

MP900386035Happy Agent Monday to all! Right now we are in the thick of writer’s conference season. I myself will be on the faculty of two in the next few weeks: The Push to Publish Conference on October 11th, and the SCBWI Mid Atlantic Conference October 25-26th. I really enjoy meeting writers and editors and agents at these events – but as writer myself, I well remember the first few conferences I’d attended. I was nervous and shy and searching for that EXIT sign! That’s why I’m so excited to welcome my client Erin Teagan here today, who will be sharing ways that even introverts can enjoy writer’s conferences.

Conference Tips for the Introvert
guest post by Erin Teagan

You’ve signed up for a children’s writing conference. You know it’s the perfect place to recharge the writing bug, learn from the pros, and make some writing friends. But now you’re panicking because — if you’re a shy-writer-type — the very thought of going to a conference crawling with real-life authors, agents, and editors is enough to make you hyperventilate. Maybe networking or small-talk isn’t your strength, maybe this is your first conference and secretly you’ve already emailed the conference coordinator begging for your money back.

As a shy-writer-type myself, I have some tips to get you through this:

1. You belong here. You may think your writing stinks or feel like everyone around you is sporting two book deals and more qualified to write than you are – turn that voice off. Half the people in the room will be thinking the same thing. The writing community is warm and welcoming and supportive. Even the multi-published/award-winning authors feel inadequate at times. They still get rejections. They still have to revise their books a thousand times. They are just like you.

2. Volunteer. Before the conference, find the ‘volunteer here’ link or the email address of the volunteer coordinator on the conference website and sign up for a job. Can you show up the night before and stuff folders? Can you unload books for book sales? By conference time, you’ll have twenty new friends and a dozen more familiar faces.

3. Take advantage of the free activities. If the conference offers peer critiques, a first-timers meet up, or a cocktail party, pick an activity where you’ll feel the least awkward. These will be smaller groups and another good way to make a few friends. And nothing makes a conference less stressful than going with a friend.

4. Memorize a one-liner about what you’re working on. Mine is: ‘I write humorous middle grade for girls.’ Chances are while you’re waiting in that bathroom line or finishing up your bagel for breakfast, someone will ask you about your work. Chances are this will happen several times throughout the conference. Maybe you’ll find someone writing in the same genre. Maybe you’ll find a critique partner or at least someone to sit with at lunch.

5. Don’t hide during breaks. You know what I mean – introverts are great at hiding in bathrooms or bookstores (I did that once) or even in plain sight by not making eye contact with anyone. Put your phone down. Make yourself available for random conversation. People are going to want to hear your one-liner. They’re going to want to vent about their awkward (I didn’t say there wasn’t going to be ANY awkwardness) manuscript consultation or their new pen (like me – I love talking about pens).

6. If you see an author that you absolutely adore, say hi. Authors are so nice. Even the ones that have a thousand books published and a hundred awards. And the secret truth is, most people will be too scared to talk to the big-time author. Tell her you like her book. Ask her if she’s working on anything new. When you become a big-time author, won’t you want people to talk to you?

7. Don’t pressure yourself to mingle with the agents or editors. They will be bombarded with conference attendees, critiques, and speaking responsibilities as it is. They probably won’t remember every conversation they had at the conference. So, if introducing yourself to your dream agent is giving you hives, I give you permission to sit it out. When you send her your query letter, compliment her on her talk or the wisdom she shared on a panel. This will probably make an even better first impression than, ‘remember when I met you in the bathroom and I told you about my vampire zombie romance idea?’ (Also, don’t do that.)

8. This conference will not make or break your career. Do what you can. You don’t have to pitch your book to one of the industry guys. You don’t have to pass out business cards. You can wear something comfortable. You don’t even have to buy a new set of fancy folders (unless you’re me and then you HAVE to). Without even trying, you will learn a ton at the conference. And you will still be able to submit to the editors and agents on the faculty when you get home, even if you didn’t talk to them personally.

9. Eat the afternoon coffee-break cookies. Because for some reason cookies at a conference taste so much better than cookies anywhere else.

10. Get to work when you get home. Revise with all the new tools you’ve learned. Follow up with new friends. Go over your notes. Make a goal to submit to the faculty when your work is ready. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to a conference. Putting the conference name in the subject of your query or in the cover letter of your submission will get you out of the dreaded slush pile. And let’s face it – you earned it!

 

Erin TeaganErin Teagan has a master’s degree in science and worked in biochemistry labs for more than ten years where she wrote endless Standard Operating Procedures.  She’s an avid reader and has reviewed middle grade and young adult books for Children’s Literature Database and Washington Independent Review of Books.  She’s active in SCBWI and this will be her eighth year co-chairing the Mid-Atlantic Fall ConferenceSTANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES will be her debut middle grade novel. Erin is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday: Phew!

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  Phew, this here agent has been BUSY in every which way over the past week. It’s included traveling and going to conferences and meeting clients and taking pitches and traveling some more, and pitching books and coming back each time to more and more and MORE stuff in my inbox. So, while I now hunker down and catch up here, I thought I’d just post some pix today of the action.

Here goes:

At the Willamette Writer’s Conference in Portland, OR (thanks, Willamette folks for a great conference!)… Hanging out with our fabulous film agent Kim Guidone, and the hilarious Rich Johnson, editor at Inklit, Penguin…

photo_3(2)While in Portland, I got to meet with my client, author Jon Price, for the very first time! That was a blast. Jon is the author of the very witty middle grade novel CREEP VIEW

photo_2(1)Back East, I grabbed a coffee with my great client Erin Teagan, and we chatted about her clever middle grade novel STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES, and about some future ideas she’s got brewing…

photo_1(2)Then off to a book launch for the thriller DEAD OUT, written by my very good buddy Jon McGoran! Jon’s book just got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. So excited to read it!…

photo_4(2)THEN it was off to New York for a gorgeous day and an informal picnic in Central Park with my fellow agents from The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. These are seriously not only the most talented and smartest people you’d ever want to meet, but the nicest too!…

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

left to right: Roseanne Wells, Marie Lamba, Jennifer De Chiara, Stephen Fraser and Linda Epstein

And now? Soaking my feet, catching up on everything, and staring at my empty refrigerator. Time to catch up and rest up and forge ahead yet again.

Happy August, everyone!

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

Agent Monday: Finding the Time to Write

MP900302970Happy Agent Monday to you all! Today, as we enjoy an extra hour of sunlight (you did turn your clock forward, right?), it’s a perfect time to talk about, well, time!  Specifically, finding the time to write. I’m thrilled today to have a guest post by my client and wonderful author Erin Teagan. Erin, though busy over the years with work and raising a family, has managed to write a number of manuscripts and to work hard at perfecting her craft. She got my attention and offer of representation with a sharp and touching middle grade novel called STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES about Madeline Little, genius scientist in the making, who keeps her life in control by creating SOP’s like “How to Fake a Bubonic Plague to get out of a Party.” But when her life flip-flops at the start of middle school, and the SOPs no longer do the trick, it’s up to Madeline to discover a new cure for her newly messed up life.

Here’s a look into how Erin finds the time…

 

FINDING TIME TO WRITE

Guest post by Erin Teagan

 

Finding the time to write is a universal struggle for writers. Day jobs, kids, pets, snowmageddons, to-do lists, books to read…there are a million things that require our time and attention before we can give anything to writing.

When I was in college I wrote a terrible YA novel. I worked on it during holiday breaks and in the summer. I pictured what writing would look like when I graduated, churning out book after book with all the time I’d have. A 9 to 5 job? No studying? What else did adults do with their time? Ha!

It took that first year of working to realize that if I wanted to be a writer I had to make it a priority. Because even though I chose a career that rarely required take-home work, it sometimes meant working late. And sometimes it meant traveling and giving up my weekends. It also meant going back to school for a graduate degree. I fantasized about my old college days. What did I do with those huge chunks of time between classes? Why hadn’t I worked on my novel more?

I researched how other writers fit it all in (I’m a scientist. I research EVERYTHING). Lots of articles talked about the time suck of the Internet and TV. But I loved those kind of time-sucks! After working nine or ten hours, sometimes it was all I could do to just sit on a couch with my roommate or husband or 90 lb lap dog and stare at the TV like a zombie. And if you didn’t surf the Internet for at least a little bit, imagine how far behind you’d get on surprise attack kitten videos or dogs romping in the snow? Sometimes you just had to be part of society, you know?

Other articles talked about writing in the wee hours of the morning or into the dark of night. Some of the most successful authors wrote while the rest of the world was sleeping. And I thought, I should give it a try. I was a night person. I used to study into the midnights, I should surely be able to churn out a book or two that way. Except I found that I just couldn’t turn off my to-do list. Those unchecked boxes that remained from my day haunted me, my brain chatter too loud. Was I even meant to be a writer if I couldn’t find any time to write?

I pictured myself fifteen years older, with kids, a mortgage, real-life problems and complications. If I was going to get writing into my schedule, it had to be now. So I tallied my excuses. Why I couldn’t write at night. Why I couldn’t give up my time-sucks. Why I couldn’t possibly write in the early morning. And what I found was I had far less excuses (though they were good ones, I tell you) about writing in the morning.

I remember the first time I tried it. I set my alarm fifteen minutes early. I was on a business trip which meant long, tiring hours. But there were no more excuses. I knew my brain would resist this new schedule so I treated myself to some new books. Plot workbooks. Writing exercises. Books on writing. The first day was a struggle, but I made myself do one writing exercise. I was groggy, the hotel coffee was pretty terrible, but once I got the writer juices flowing, it wasn’t as horrific as I had feared.

This was a big change for me so it took me months. Each week I set my alarm fifteen minutes earlier. By the end of it, I was waking up at 4:45 in the morning and my brain was forgetting that I was a night-person. I felt so successful! At the end of that first year I had revised my terrible young adult novel (and then put it in a locked drawer) and managed to write a somewhat decent draft of a new middle grade. I felt so accomplished! I had managed to trick my night-person brain to be something that could function and focus in the wee hours of the day.

Nearly fifteen years later, with real-life complications, kids and a mortgage, I’m so thankful I took the plunge and made writing a priority in my schedule. It took some trial and error and brain training to figure out what worked best for me, but now I can be sure to check off that one ‘writing’ box on my to-do list every day.

Now if I could just apply that to the rest of my life like going through my overstuffed filing cabinet, resolving that toll violation, or exercising. But really, who runs on a snow day? And is that filing cabinet really hurting anyone? So I’ll leave those tasks unchecked on my list for today. At least I got some writing in.

 

Erin TeaganErin Teagan has a master’s degree in science and worked in biochemistry labs for more than ten years where she wrote endless Standard Operating Procedures.  She’s an avid reader and has reviewed middle grade and young adult books for Children’s Literature Database and Washington Independent Review of Books.  She’s active in SCBWI and this will be her eighth year co-chairing the Mid-Atlantic fall conference. STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES will be her debut middle grade novel. Erin is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday: It’s WORK

???????????Hi all!  Happy Agent Monday, once again. What a week full of bright swirling leaves and pumpkins and hot cider. I LOVE FALL. For me, this week was filled with the usual agent-y stuff, plus I’ve been in the process of transferring my writing space into another room. And I had the pleasure of meeting two of my clients for the first time. Throughout the week a theme has emerged: just how much work is involved in the literary life. Yes, writers love writing (for the most part!). And yes, sometimes penning novels feels like play cuz it’s such a blast to create a world. And, yes, when I as an agent get to hang out with my extremely cool and extremely talented writers, it definitely feels more like play than work.  But make no mistake: the writing life is WORK.

The topic for this post came to me this weekend when I sat sipping coffee with my client Erin Teagan. Erin hooked my representation as her literary agent with her sharp and extraordinary middle grade manuscript STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES. It’s about Maddy, a genius scientist in the making who keeps her life in control by creating SOP’s like “How to Fake a Bubonic Plague to get out of a Party.” But when her life flip-flops at the start of middle school, and the SOPs no longer do the trick, it’s up to Maddy to discover a new cure for her newly messed up life.

So as Erin and I sat and chatted about our lives and swapped laughs, the conversation turned to our day-to-day literary lives. And she said, “You must be so busy. How do you do everything that you do?”

Yup, being an agent is time-consuming. Sure, it’s fun. I love treasure hunting through queries, and the thrill of finding that talented author and championing the writer through the literary world. Talking with really talented editors at publishing houses on a daily basis, and helping my authors in every way I can is so gratifying. But it does take time. It is hard work. I get up early to get a head start on query letters.  I stay up late reading manuscripts. I work through weekends. I work like a crazy person. But, really, it’s nothing new to me, because I’m an author too. And being an author is WORK!

Sure enough, when I asked Erin about how she spent her time, her own work ethic as a writer shone through. In addition to being a parent of small kids (and THAT is a job and a half for anyone), she spends endless hours writing and revising her own work, she participates in an active critique group, and each year she spends countless hours and hours organizing her region’s huge SCBWI conference. Oh, and (she casually mentions between sips of latte) she has five other novel manuscripts in her drawer at home. Five? FIVE???  I, as her agent, naturally smile and say, “Iwannaseethose. Ireallywannaseethose!”

Just think about all the time that goes into writing and polishing a novel. Then another and another. All while life throws you for a continuous loop, demanding your time in some most unexpected ways. Think of continuing to write yet another novel, even if your last ones may have gotten some interest but not that agent or that book deal you’d hoped for. Keeping in the writer zone throughout all this and continuing to devote more and more time to your craft is hard work.

Writers often refer to their earlier unpublished novels as their “learning novels.” They continue to plug away at their writing, improving as they move along. Sharpening their skills. Erin said a few of her novels were those learning novels. “I wouldn’t show you those,” she said. “But three of them? I think I know how to fix them now.”

I, her faithful literary agent, set down my hot beverage and rubbed my hands together. “Goodie!”

Writers write. If you are devoted to becoming an author, chances are you spend a lot of time writing, too. Perfecting your craft. Reading great literature. Journaling. Spending money on writer’s conferences. And chances are good that some people in your life don’t take you seriously all the time. “That’s your hobby,” they say. “How can it be work if you do it in your jammies at home?” they say. “But you haven’t even published a book,” they sniff. And that, over time, can get to you. It can spur doubts. You might start thinking: What am I, crazy? Spending years on something without getting much of anything in return yet?

So are you crazy? Well, maybe a little. But I think what you really are is a WRITER. And you are working hard toward a goal. Like Erin, who has been doing this for many years, and now? Her writing is stellar and polished, her manuscript immediately caught my eye, and soon we’ll be subbing it to top editors.

Also this week I got to meet another wonderful new client Richard Uhlig for the first time. Richard is the author of sharp and hilarious YA novels including LAST DANCE AT THE FROSTY QUEEN, BOY MINUS GIRL (both Knopf books), and MYSTERY AT SNAKE RIVER BRIDGE  (Wild Child Publishing), and he has a Hollywood screenwriting and directing background as well. Richard and I also started chatting about his writing life. He’s busy, also watching young children (that job and a half!), but still, in the past few years he’s managed to pen two novels, including the manuscript NERVOUS, the beyond hysterical story of a perpetually distracted underachiever, with writing that made me jump to the phone to offer him representation. And Richard has also recently written and produced two short films that are snagging prizes. Oh, and, he mentions as an aside, he also has two other novels sitting around.

I, his agent, drop my fork (we were having lunch, I don’t usually walk around with a fork in my hand – in case you were wondering). I want to see those novels.  A client with multiple novels and more ideas in the works = literary agent heaven. And being such a productive writer = HARD WORK. In addition to the writing and the film stuff and the parenting, Richard also participates in critique groups. He’s busy. And once again I’m struck by how much time writers put into their craft. And I’m awed. Truly.

Okay, so I mentioned that in addition to being an agent, I’m an author too. I have a few young adult novels published, and my stuff is in a few anthologies, and I’ve got a lot of articles in magazines, etc. You can find info about my books here.

Businessman Carrying Pile of FilesANYWAYS, so after meeting two of my newest clients, and being thoroughly impressed by both them as fascinating and lovely people and as really hardworking writers, I spent the rest of my weekend doing the dreaded task of moving my writing studio space from one room in my house to another. And, honestly, I got quite a shock.

I found an old middle grade novel manuscript that I’d never sold. Yeah, I remember that one. Oh, and another novel I wrote for the women’s fiction market. I kinda remember that one. And a YA novel manuscript. And another. And a slew of magazine articles that never sold. And another women’s fiction manuscript. And another. And a non-fiction book proposal. And at least three more partially written novels…

Honestly, I was stunned. All this work. Countless hours spent and my writerly passion poured onto pages. Stacks and stacks and STACKS of pages.

So what do I do with it all? I start reading them, naturally. And nodding my head. And laughing. Because I really don’t remember a lot of these. It’s like a different person wrote them. And, I admit with a blush, they are pretty good. Maybe not right for the marketplace. And I could do better now. I’ve learned and grown. It represents a ton of work, a ton of hours. But it was WORTH IT.

Not everyone in the world gets that, though. Like the accountant who, a few years ago during tax season, looked over my slim financials and shook his head. “Okay,” he said, leaning back into his cushy leather seat. “Why don’t you give your little writing hobby another year, and if it doesn’t pay off, you can go get real work.”

Um, what? (Note: I did not go back to him for the next year’s taxes… And I did not give up my “little writing hobby” either.)

Good thing we writers love what we do.  I truly respect the time each of you put into getting your work the best it can be. It matters. It’s valuable.

Be sure that you respect it, too. It doesn’t matter that you do it in your jammies. Or that no one has picked up your last x-amount of novels for publication. Or that your tax man is scoffing at you.

It matters that you work hard. That you strive to create the very best writing that you can. It’s a process. A hard one.

But it is also your path to writerly success.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.